APR helps young PR pro take career to the next level

By Don Klein (@donklein99), director at large, PRSA Southeastern WisconsinSaige Smith

Saige Smith (@Saige_Smith), PR leader at GE Healthcare, is definitely making her mark as a young PR pro. Agency experience? Check. Corporate? Got it. Strategy chops? All day.

But with only five professional years under her belt, she thought of a way to take her career to the next level: Become APR.

If you’re not familiar with those three letters, APR stands for Accredited in Public Relations. It recognizes professionals who have mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to develop and deliver strategic communications. The APR process involves an initial screen to test for qualifications; a readiness review presentation before a panel of seasoned PR leaders; and a comprehensive knowledge test. From there, it’s an ongoing commitment to professional development and bringing the best skills and thinking to work every day.

Saige was familiar with APR because a client at a former agency called it out as one of the reasons they invited that agency team to the new business table. A former supervisor – who is also APR – encouraged Saige to take a serious look at accreditation.

Finding support
As she got started, Saige and a few other applicants connected with Kelly Savage, APR, (@SF_KellySavage) the accreditation chairperson for the Southeast Wisconsin PRSA chapter.

“Kelly was great. She sat down with us and explained APR in a way that wasn’t intimidating. She helped me believe I could go for it and succeed in it.”

Because Saige didn’t quite have the industry experience that’s typical of an APR applicant, she needed to make her case to PRSA national in New York.

“It was a really casual phone call,” she recalled. “After a few questions they passed me on to the readiness review,” Saige said.

To prepare for the review, Saige dug into a huge campaign she conducted, clearly breaking out the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics she implemented. When it was time for the review, she faced a panel of three prominent Milwaukee area PR leaders.

“It was intimidating, but I welcomed it – it motivated me to really prepare to defend the work I was doing,” Saige said. It also gave her the opportunity to make new connections with these three inspirational PR pros.

Time to study
After passing her readiness review, it was time to prep for the test. She signed up for the online cohort program and highly recommends it but actually ended up doing a lot of studying solo. She was challenged to consider real life situations and apply principles to them. Since she’s worked in health care during her career to date, she found it interesting to consider hypotheticals such as being a PR director for a manufacturer or a governmental PR officer.

“It definitely forced me out of my comfort zone,” Saige said.

She passed and was thrilled. From start to finish, the process took about a year and a half. She was recognized at the February PRSA luncheon with her APR pin, a lasting sign of her accomplishment.  She’s also begun to spread the word about the value of APR to her colleagues at GE Healthcare and with college students she encounters.

Looking back
Saige said the process made her think about her career goals and where she wants to go.

“It forces you to do some serious career introspection.” It also demonstrated she was already doing a lot of the right things.

Overall, Saige feels the APR is a great confidence boost. She urges other PR pros – even those with only a few years of solid experience – to consider accreditation.

“I think people are afraid of it,” she said candidly. “We have busy lives, we’re working, we don’t get paid to go off and get these letters behind our names,” Saige said. “But it isn’t the time commitment you might think it is.”

It is, however, an investment you make in yourself today that pays off tomorrow.

To learn more about APR, contact Kelly Savage at kelly.savage.lvv0@statefarm.com.

SEO and PR Working Together

Bill Finn of Finn Digital

At the last PRSA luncheon we had the great opportunity to hear from Bill Finn, founder and president of Finn Digital, LLC. He was incredibly engaging in explaining how SEO and PR are supposed to be the best of friends. Below is a Q&A with Bill about what PR professionals can do to enhance their SEO efforts.

Interview by Lynda Nicely.

PRSA: If organizations are starting from scratch on their SEO and PR efforts, what do you suggest be the first step for them take?

Bill Finn (BF): Understand your audience – it starts and ends there. Know what they’re searching on to find you. Then, align your keywords with your content, and determine what constitutes PR communication.

PRSA: How do you identify what keywords to use?

BF: Begin with the obvious: vertical market descriptors, product names, brand names. Then, use Google keyword tools to see how those fit into the larger landscape of what Google users are actually searching on. ‘Neighboring’ terms can provide ah-hah moments into more frequently searched keywords or relative keyword value.

PRSA: What are some of the tools in a PR pro’s arsenal that they may not be aware are there?

BF: At Finn Digital, we advocate the principle of “content-forward”. It advances the notion that the stories and value a PR pro needs to promote to the public already exist within the company entity. Real-life networking and investigative reporting within the corporation often yields surprisingly dynamic core messages and valuable stories.

PRSA: Clients and organizational management want measureable results. How would you suggest to measure ROI with SEO and PR initiatives?

BF: The greatest return is that PR impact can be measured at all, as easily as it is!

First, determine what online indicators represent value within the organization. If the indicators are user-action-driven, correlation with value return is more evident. If the goal is to drive awareness, for example, one measurable action might be viewing a video, subscribing to an RSS feed, clicking a ‘Learn More’ button, or sharing a particular article. SEO gets people to a website or online area. User experience design structures a given visit to a website, hopefully triggering action.

Both are indicators that can be benchmarked and continually monitored and adjusted to A/B test what factors influence your audience. Once an influencing factor is identified, that’s valuable in delivering more personal connections to your visitors and customers.

PRSA: People talk a lot about YouTube and videos going viral, how would you suggest using SEO for online video?

BF: Video produces dramatic results when it ‘goes viral’. However, ‘going viral’ means that the general internet public finds it appealing in some way (and sometimes, unintended ways).

Video can be tagged with keywords and linked back to your company or client website. Additionally, YouTube videos can contain link pop-ups at specific areas of content within a video.

One best practice is to embed your YouTube video directly in your website. The algorithms seem to treat this more valuably than if there’s simply a text link out to a YouTube video. All these links are ‘the juice’, that contributes to stronger search results for targeted keywords.

PRSA: Top 3 tips for pros to get the PR and SEO going hand in hand?

BF: Our top three items are 1) get a flip cam, interview thought leaders in your area of interest, and post to YouTube with relevant tags. 2) continually give away great (searched for) content on your blogs, podcasts and video.  3) Create a Facebook fan page and update with high interactivity items such as polls. Repurpose that content for your blog! Content and connectivity go hand-in-hand!

Be sure to check out Bill’s blog too. Lots of great information including video interviews of his chat with two Milwaukee journalists who are on the leading edge of social media. Alysha Schertz of the BizTimes of Milwaukee and Stan Miller of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explain how they use social media in their reporting as well as what press releases stand out.

PRSA President Mary Scheibel on the future of PR

Interview by Jenna Kashou

Welcome to the new blog for PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin, which will focus on news from the chapter, social media and the future of public relations.

For our first blog we interviewed Southeastern Wisconsin PRSA President Mary Scheibel, who provides her perspective from 30 years of PR experience. She started her career with The Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago, and in 1991 she founded Scheibel Halaska.

In this interview, Mary discusses how she uses social media for business and personal, what changes the game, and what will never change.

Q: How have you seen social media change public relations practices?

A: The ability for people to generate content and participate directly in the news process really changes the game. Social media is the wave of the future and people need to embrace it. It’s important to learn how to take advantage of social media as a critical component in an integrated strategy.

Q: How has PRSA responded to and implemented social media?

A: We have been able to bring together a very dynamic social media committee that is sending tweets from our Twitter account ahead of and at meetings and uploading videos of presenters. We are also using social media as a primary communications tool to share information about the industry and chapter events.

From an educational standpoint, several of our programs have been focused on teaching our members how to best utilize social media and how to integrate social media into best practices for web, SEO and more. We also encourage members to follow reporters online and help them with story leads.

The March 25th meeting will focus on how reporters are using social media and how PR practitioners can use it for their clients and their agencies. There will be practical advice that everyone can take away and apply to their business practices.

Q: What social media tools do you use the most for business and which are the most effective?

A: Scheibel Halaska is primarily a B2B firm, so using social media is a bit different than on the consumer side. We are, however, building social media into our clients’ programs and leading by example. SH has a twitter account, a blog, a Facebook fan page and a LinkedIn group.

Our goal is to tweet a minimum of three times a week, but more actively when we have relevant information to share. Last week we attended a conference for international PR practitioners so we tweeted much more frequently. We strive to maintain a consistent presence, although our biggest focus is on relevant content. We do lots of linking, re-tweeting and driving content to our blog.

We follow reporters for all our clients, looking for story opportunities and ways we can help the media generate news.

Q: Do you use social media for personal use?

A: I have a Facebook page and like to share pictures of my granddaughter with friends and family. My son got married in La Paz, Mexico (his wife’s hometown) last fall, so Facebook was an important communications tool.

My husband John, who is the CEO of Scheibel Halaska, is one of the most tuned in people around. He never just watches TV anymore. John will follow different news feeds online while things happen.

As a board member of IPREX, an international association of PR practitioners, he’s constantly getting perspectives from people online around the world. He is able to bring European soccer fans into our living room! It adds a whole other dimension.

Q: What do you feel are some of the most common misconceptions about social media?

A: I think there are two primary misperceptions – one that social media is just a fad and conversely that social media is “everything.” It’s also a misconception that you can’t generate a return on the B2B side. The smart companies are learning how to use it effectively.

I also think that as Facebook becomes a more important business tool as well as a social tool, people will start to be more discriminatory on who they have as friends and take better care of their reputations.

Q: With all the changes brought by social media what sorts of things do you think will stay the same?

A: Social media will not replace face to face communications. Advertising will continue to have its place.

Trust and credibility will always be paramount and hopefully we will never get away from ethics. As it shifts more and more to user generated content, trust and integrity of the author will come into play more.

People that I’ve talked to believe that the market will correct itself. If someone is being dishonest online, his or her fan base will diminish. Because of the speed of the medium, people will spread the word about him/her quickly.

People are always hungry for good credible sources. That will always remain.

Q: What do you think the PRSA chapter will look like in five years? How will social media change the landscape?

A: We are building a very robust chapter and have a strong group of dedicated volunteers. Our goal is to have a robust PR community that has a positive impact:

  1. On our members and their careers
  2. Through our members, on the companies/organizations they work for
  3. In the community-at-large

I am seeing that happen in a lot of different ways. Social media will help us better understand and stay on top of what members need and want. It can enhance our value to members by allowing us to better connect members and share best practices.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice given to you about social media?

A: Be thoughtful. Understand what your goals and objectives are as an individual and for your business. Incorporate social medial and be strategic about how you use it.

Don’t be afraid to get involved. A lot of people are entering social media slowly. It’s OK to step into and move forward at pace that works for you.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: As PR practitioners, our greatest value to clients is in providing good, strategic counsel. Good ideas, good writing, good strategy – those are the things that require focus and concentrated thinking. My greatest concern is that we don’t become so tactical that we diminish our real value.

We have to careful with our time and how much of it is spent on social media. We can’t just replace research and analytical thinking with copying and pasting Google alerts.

How do we make sure we are still taking time to think and focus? Maintaining that balance is ever so challenging yet ever so important.